Microsoft patents "digital manners policy"

Microsoft's latest patent is trying to establish a "digital manners policy" (or DMP for short) to be enforced on all electronic devices. Essentially, what Microsoft wants — or, at least, what they see potential profit in — is for all electronic devices to be able to receive "orders" from a DMP master transmitter. One example being used is that DMP-equipped movie theaters could automatically turn all mobile phones to vibrate once a movie starts.

There's a load of problems with this idea, and privacy and security guys are already going a little bit bonkers about DMP. Ars Technica writes:

The patent application itself may only have been recently published, but it's already come under attack from some privacy advocates who fear it's nothing more than DRM masquerading under a different name. Upon review of the actual patent, this type of stance seems unnecessarily alarmist. While the DMP system Microsoft describes might theoretically be used to completely block or unnecessarily restrict device access, switching phones to "vibrate" mode or disallowing photos while in a locker room do not seem to qualify.

I'd disagree: the comparison seems apt. Microsoft is patenting technology that would allow other people to control your property without your consent. That's DRM... except it's more worrying, because it's for physical property as opposed to intellectual property. Certainly, we're all annoyed by people who don't turn off their phones in movie theaters, but a movie theater has no more right to turn off your phone without your explicit consent than it does to order an usher to push you to the ground, steal your phone and manually turn it off.

This sort of patent works under the assumption that you don't own your phone, or camera, or whatever, but are simply leasing it from Microsoft, who will arbitrarily dictate how you can use your device according to the whims of its paying clients (and I'd remind you all that the biggest client of this sort of technology would almost certainly be the US Government). That's alarming, even before you start considering security issues, pranksters and the like.

Ars says "the benefits to our collective sanity may well outweigh any minor annoyances that might occur with DMP." Surely, any threat to our collective sanity can be handled culturally, without handing control of all of our gadgets to a digital Miss Manners. Gadgets isn't what makes people rude and annoying: social acquiescence is. It's people who need common courtesy and policing, not tech.

Mobile Device Manners and Propagation [Patent via Ars]

Join the Conversation


  1. I’m actually torn on this one. If it was used to stop cellphones from ringing in a movie theatre, or no pictures in a lockerroom, I’m pretty cool with it. Heck I’ve been lusting after a keychain device that interrupts cellphone calls so I don’t have to hear that idiot yelling into their phone while on the bus.

    Is this MS’s real intent though? Besides the debate about whether you actually own your phone, how else could this be misused>

    Also, the movie theatre completely has the right to not allow ringing cellphones in their establishment. It’s not public property, what they say goes on their property, within their legal limit of course.

  2. Once you start treating people like criminals, they will start behaving the part.

  3. And, since it’s MicroSoft, they would probably end up with several security flaws, leading to all kinds of mischief.

  4. A movie theater may have the right to ask you not to use your phone, or to ask you to leave if you do, but I don’t think they have the right to simply start fiddling with the settings of your gadgets without your express permission.

    “Heck I’ve been lusting after a keychain device that interrupts cellphone calls so I don’t have to hear that idiot yelling into their phone while on the bus.”

    Right… you want to impose your sense of propriety on other people without them having any say in the matter. I understand where you’re coming from, of course, but it’s a slippery slope.

  5. I think I’ve heard a phone ring once in a movie theatre, ever.

    Just wait until some on-call doctor (who courteously set their phone to vibrate) isn’t available to save someone’s life because of this. Or someone loses a contract because of this. The fact my school seems to be a Faraday cage is bad enough.

    I will not be renting a phone from Microsoft, ever.

    The one advantage of them patenting the idea would be disallowing other people from doing it. If Nokia was the one to patent this, I’d really worry.

  6. MR: Brownlee: Yeah I know, it should be their choice to use a cellphone when they want. But it’s also their responsibility to not be disrupting to their fellow passengers/movie-goers/etc. This doesn’t happen too much.

    I will say something to these people. I’ve been in one fistfight on the bus over it, and I will not be afraid to say something when either I am or other passengers appear uncomfortable about it. These people just doesn’t get called out enough anymore.

  7. Dudes, it’s just a patent. No more indicative of intention than any other patent.

    MSFT (and every other tech firm) has a policy of filing patent applications for anything their employees think of. They’d try to patent a remote controlled pooper-scooper if someone brought it up in a product meeting.

    That said, trying to enforce “good manners” with laws has never worked so why would anyone think that technology will be any more successful?

  8. thin edge of the wedge to make it easy and legal for the government to keep ordinary citizens – I mean “potential dissidents” from warning each other when a round-up is taking place.

  9. Suppose it was implemented. I wonder how many public places would eventually have the “no pictures” flag set? Meaning even if it’s legal to take photos, you couldn’t… Then how many police cars and federal agents would have DMP boxes with “no photos / no video / no audio recording” flags set. No more individuals documenting arrests or police action.

    Thin edge indeed.

  10. “No more individuals documenting arrests or police action.”

    that’s it. They already fear cell phone camera video of street beatings etc, but the instant web upload ability is their real nemesis.

  11. Fortunately it’s Microsoft who’s patented this… if it were a competent corporation I might be worried.

  12. Other potential uses:
    -Coffee makers won’t brew after noon.
    -Liquor cabinets won’t unlock without ID
    -Hair dryers won’t switch on if the bed in the next room senses more than 65lbs on it.
    -Your front door won’t unlock unless the person outside in on your cell phone contacts list.
    -Your car will shut your cell phone off.
    -Your car won’t start if you don’t put your seat belt on.
    -The bathroom won’t unlock unless the soap dispenser is operated.
    -Exterior doors won’t unlock for men wearing hats.
    -A scale in the floor in front of the refrigerator will limit number of entries per day.
    -The television will shut off if you sit too close.
    -School lockers won’t unlock while class is in session.
    -Your computer will whitelist only a small set of sites until your homework is done.
    -Your freezer won’t allow access to the ice cream if the garbage disposal senses vegetables.
    -Your wedding ring won’t come off unless your spouse’s ring is within 10m.

    I could go on forever… Hurray, new Freedom®!

  13. Microsoft’s real intention: to make money off anyone who actually tries to implement this. When a patent is filed for an idea this vague, that’s always a safe assumption.

    Besides, you can’t invalidate a patent on the basis of being potentially used for malicious purposes. Now THAT would be a slippery slope.

    To Takuan: you used to have a much better sense of humor about things. Whatever happened to all the Ender’s game and random picture links? You’ve been spinning everything into paranoia lately.

  14. If you are jerk enough to talk during a movie, I welcome the usher that takes your phone away, slaps you hard, tapes your mouth shut, and tells you: “You can have your phone back after the movie if you apologies to everyone in the theater.”


    I’d assume the “no pictures” flag would be set by default. If you want to take photos at home you’ll have to buy a DMP transmitter and keep your license up to date.

  16. Forcing “vibrate” mpde, maybe OK – but since it seems every cell phone may have its own code (like TV sets – why does every TV have a seperate set of codes? Easy – if you want to change the volume from your chair, which is where you will know what the sound level is there, you should buy the manufacturer’s device [actually probably one for each model]) and in fact I am not sure mie even has such a mode…

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